Game Night movie review: Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams steal the show

Game Night movie review: Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams steal the show”

In an effort to even further emasculate Max, the just-visiting Brooks invites everyone (but Gary) to his high-end rental where he promises the ultimate game night scenario. More importantly, there's careful attention paid to the lost art of constructing actual jokes. Not all of the gags connect, but the winners taste surprisingly fresh for such low-hanging fruit. The opening games montage laying out their relationship is a nifty bit of succinct visual exposition (think Zack Snyder's opening credits scene in The Watchmen) that offers a glimpse of what these filmmakers might be capable of, should they ever apply their talents to something less emotionally bankrupt.

Rachel McAdams (as Annie): "Max is very competitive, as am I". Think you can't play because you have trouble with stick figures?

But on this particular evening, Ryan has roped in a ringer, his brainy Irish officemate Sarah (Catastrophe's brilliant Sharon Horgan), and there's another special guest, Max's older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler). And if Max, Anne and their friends don't rescue Brooks, everyone's going to lose. Max and Brooks have always been competitive, and Max has never been able to get the upper hand.

When I ask about stealing Bateman's film, Daley proudly admits it. Chopped up and smashed together in a two-minute trailer or 30-second TV spot, the punchlines fall flat, landing with a heavy thud.

Other actors get to play off their images.

Things start picking up when Brooks, back from his latest European conquest, treats Max and his gaming buddies to a different kind of Game Night. "Like a child actor". Its writers, John Frances Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, went on to greater success, writing the well-received Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and making their directorial debuts with Vacation (2015).

"I remember being in acting school and teachers saying that, just nodding my head like I understood but I didn't really get that", she adds. Game Night doesn't explore this feeling, it merely identifies it.

The delightful McAdams shines the brightest in her first full comedy role since 2013's About Time but she is surrounded by an effervescent cast. No, this isn't a Star Wars: The Last Jedi type of deconstruction for the entire sub-genre, but it packs plenty of surprises into its re-treaded premise. Or is it? Gunfire, bloodshed, auto chases, yelping and shrieking ensue.

Jason Bateman: "Not for bullet removal - for pain distraction, perhaps". "Whoever wins the fistfight", jokes Daley. They became their "real" selves and proceeded to act out the rest of the murder mystery. When the celebrity is finally revealed, it warrants only a minor chuckle and an exasperated, "Is that it?" All sorts of hijinks ensue - gunshots, vehicle chases, even a desperate visit to the home of Gary (Jesse Plemons, stealing all his scenes with deadpan line readings), Max and Annie's cop neighbor, who's kind of terrifying until we understand the depths of his loneliness.

The breakneck pace and likeable characters help to carry "Game Night" over any potholes created by its predictable plot and lack of emotional depth. They have an easy chemistry with one another that resembles that sort of lived-in friendship that usually only comes across midway through the first season of a sitcom. It is certainly a promising set up for a comedy film of big budget but makers had to take care of timely giving moments in the film instead of jamming all the laughs in the world in two hours.

"Game Night" feels like a film conceived by two extraordinarily high filmmakers between tokes: What if David Fincher's "The Game" met the Steve Carell/Tina Fey vehicle "Date Night", and it was about people who liked having a game night?

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